On April 29th, at our 2nd Annual Literary Debutante Ball, One Story will be celebrating five One Story authors who have published their debut books over the past year. As a lead up to the event, we thought it would be a fun idea to introduce our Debs through a series of interviews on their debut book experiences.
This week, in our fifth installment, we had the pleasure of speaking with Robin Black, author of If I loved you, I would tell you this (Random House), a mesmerizing collection that includes the story she published with One Story, “Harriet Elliot.”
Robin Black’s If I loved you, I would tell you this, takes a compassionate but unsentimental look at families at times of crisis, decision, indecision and growth. Characterized by elegant, simple prose, these stories examine the most basic matter of how hope is – and sometimes is not – to be fabricated, again and again.
1) How did you celebrate when you found out your first book was going to be published?
When I learned that Random House had taken the book, I was up to my ears in the arrangements for my daughter’s bat mitzvah about a week later – and in a sense that huge celebration stood in for any I might have done for the book, which was actually fine. And perfectly symbolic too of the way that all along through this my family has helped me keep the highs and lows of book publication in some kind of perspective – most days, anyway. I did splurge on a couple of things. I went out and bought myself a ridiculously expensive handbag, red and really, really shiny which seemed somehow appropriately talismanic and frivolous all at once.
2) Your collection includes, “Harriet Elliot,” which you published with us in One Story. What happened from when you published in One Story to when your first book was accepted?
That One Story publication was absolutely a game-changer for me in terms of agents being interested in working with me and also just visibility. The Esquire Magazine book blog ran a little review of the story and I remember being blown away by that. Just by being noticed that way. In publishing, for better and also worse, there’s a kind of contagion of acceptance and One Story is one of those buzzy entities that backs up the buzz with unusual, consistent quality. When you’re published in One Story, you’re in amazing company, edited by amazing editors. That’s true of other literary journals I’ve been in as well, but what’s unique to One Story is the degree to which your work is showcased. I absolutely benefitted from all that as well as from the fact that during my work with Hannah the story got a lot, lot better. (A lot.)
3) During the editing of, If I loved you, I would tell you this, was there any single piece of advice you received or perhaps remembered from earlier in your career that helped ease the process?
My mother, who is a legal scholar, once said to me, “I have never regretted refusing to make an edit that seemed wrong to me, and I have invariably regretted giving in when I was sure I shouldn’t.” There haven’t been many times in the course of editing these stories – both for journals and for the book – where I have had to dig in and become, shall we say, stubborn. For the most part I have been enormously appreciative of the suggestions and improvements I’ve received. (And in fact, I’ve even been appreciative of the edits with which I’ve disagreed.) But my mother is right. When you know in your gut that something needs to stay a certain way, you have to go with it. And it helped me a lot having that advice from her for the few times when I needed it.
4) If I loved you, I would tell you this, was short-listed for the prestigious Frank O’Connor Story Prize. What was it like to get such huge international recognition for your first book?
Incredibly exciting. Just incredibly exciting. For me, that event, along with the initial book deal and then the foreign deals, was one where it was so exciting that for a long time I was in a kind of “I can’t compute” stupor. Just to be in that company is extraordinary! But then, I have to say, though that never exactly wears off, the longer I have been around the world of publication and all that attends it, the more I see that as flattering as any accolades are, they are also a little bit random. I’m not trying to be modest here, or even falsely modest, it’s just that after a year with a book out, I can’t help but see how much luck is involved in the whole thing. From those first story publications, when a piece crosses the desk of the right editor who happens to be in the right mood to appreciate it, all the way to being selected as finalist for something as fantastic as the O’Connor Prize, there is an unstable element in the mix, something unpredictable and not particularly rational. I feel so glad that people like and respond to the work – but I also feel very, very lucky.
5) What are you looking forward to the most about the One Story Literary Debutante Ball on April 29th?
I like the idea of being part of a group, a kind of graduating class. The Debs of 2011. I feel like we should have a secret handshake and a class t-shirt. Reunions in the coming years. I’m so excited to meet the other authors and to share stories of having first books out, hear what it’s been like for them. Hear what they’re doing next. Writing the second book is an infamously treacherous adventure. I’d love to talk about that some. It’s also kind of hilarious because it’s happening on my 49th birthday. The world’s oldest debutante. Life turns out to be so spectacularly strange, and I am looking forward to reveling in that fact.
For more information about Robin and If I loved you, I would tell you this, visit her author website.